How (and why) to run virtual events

Alice Lawson and Jennie Lindehoff


Digital PR

The past two months have seen a shift in the way people engage with friends, family and even brands. Platforms like Zoom have become an increasingly popular way for consumers to engage with their friends and family, and for brands to host virtual events where they would normally offer offline ones – for example, weekly pub quizzes.

While virtual events are the norm right now, they offer a unique way for brands to promote their products and services and engage with relevant audiences – benefits which are relevant as part of a long-term marketing strategy.

With lockdown restrictions slowly but surely easing off, by 2021 it is likely that large scale events will be back on the agenda for many businesses.

Rather than discarding virtual events when this does happen, it may be that there is a place for them in your marketing plan.

Why host a virtual event?

Virtual events have several advantages over physical events and can be used either alongside or instead of offline events depending on your key objectives and budget.

Cost-effectiveness

Virtual events are a great solution for brands who have limited budgets but still want the engagement and lead generation an event brings. They are much cheaper to run than offline events as they require less external costs, such as suppliers or venues, there is less attendance time required from team members, and there are no costs needed for traveling to and from the event.

Scalability

It typically costs more to host larger-scale physical events as bigger venues tend to cost more, and a larger guest list has larger associated costs such as tea and coffee, banners and physical materials.

With virtual events, the only additional cost incurred by scaling up would be product costs and time spent sourcing people to take part. This means it is much easier, and cheaper, to run large-scale events online. A larger attendee list means more engagement and more leads, giving you better results and more for your money.

Reach new markets

It can be difficult and costly to run events in locations outside of where you are based as it typically takes multiple visits to find and secure an appropriate venue. This, along with the need to take a team and often multiple products and assets down to the location for the event itself, can mean very high travel costs and loss of multiple days for team members organizing the event.

Virtual events can be attended by anyone, no matter their location, which means you can reach demographics and locations that would otherwise be out of your reach (or budget).

Reach multiple markets at once

Running a virtual event not only allows you to reach new markets, but it also allows you to reach multiple markets at any one time. For brands that operate globally, this provides a great opportunity to engage with all of your core markets at once. Widening the reach of a single event to all markets is extremely time and cost-effective too, as it involves planning and hosting just one event in one location instead of several across the globe.

More control

There are many factors outside of your control that can lead to last-minute event cancellations – bad weather, public transport issues, and travel restrictions. These cancellations are frustrating for both the business hosting and the attendees and rescheduling the event may not always work due to venue availability and time needed to organize. Virtual events can be run no matter what external factors are happening.

Open to everyone

Virtual events are suitable for everyone, and hosting a virtual event improves accessibility to people who may otherwise be unable to, or prefer not to, attend.

How to host a virtual event

While on the surface it seems that running a virtual event is simpler than running an offline event, it still takes careful planning and organisation to run smoothly on the day and ensure that both the business and attendees get value from the event.

Set KPIs and objectives

Setting objectives and KPIs before planning the event will help you to get more from the event. In addition to having your own objectives, you should know what the objectives are for those attending the event. What is it that attendees will get from joining? Ensure they are informed when researching or signing up for the event so that they know what to expect on the day.

Send materials out with plenty of time

While virtual events are protected against delays and cancellations, it is important to ensure all products and materials are shipped early enough that they will reach attendees in time, even if there are issues and delays.

Ensure your technology is up to scratch

When running an event online, it is crucial that the technology you and any hosts use is up to scratch; poor connectivity or lengthy breakdowns cause frustration and may mean your attendees leave.

Test the platforms and software you use with plenty of time so that any issues can be fixed before the day of the event.

Keep the length in check

It is important to be mindful of the length of the event; too short and attendees may not get much out of it, too long and interest and engagement levels may drop. Plan in regular breaks and mix up the activities over the day to keep interest levels high throughout the event, and consider running the event over multiple days if needed.

Use an event host

Event hosts are used at offline events to greet everyone and keep the conversation flowing. While this may not seem necessary for an online event, it is harder for attendees to network and discuss with other participants online than at an offline event. Having a virtual host helps to overcome this issue and prevents lengthy silences occurring.

Maintain a strong social media presence

Being active on social media before, during and after the event helps to widen the event reach and builds engagement and interest with attendees and prospects. Use a hashtag to monitor and engage with online discussion and pay attention to common questions and discussion points that come up, as you can address these during the event.

Create a strong content and marketing strategy

Like offline events, you will need a strong multi-channel marketing strategy when running a virtual event to ensure you drive relevant sign-ups. What channels will work best to reach your target audience? How will you drive sign-ups and ensure guests are engaged from the moment they know about the event, until after the event is finished? What content will you create to drum up the excitement?

Ensure that branding remains consistent across all channels and content, and that key objectives are easily apparent to those who are interested in the event are encouraged to sign up.

Virtual events can be used to achieve many key business objectives such as increased brand awareness, thought leadership and lead generation. We have a dedicated events team who can help plan online and offline events to meet your key objectives – below is a showreel of some of the events we have hosted for our clients.

Find out how we can use events to achieve your KPIsGet in touch


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